University of Alabama to add name of school’s first black student to building

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University of Alabama to add name of school's first black student to building

The University of Alabama will add the name of the university’s first black student to an academic building to share with its current namesake — a former Alabama governor and “Grand Cyclops” of the KKK.

The University of Alabama Board of Trustees voted on Thursday to change the name of Graves Hall to Lucy-Graves Hall, in honor of Autherine Lucy Foster, who broke the color barrier and enrolled in the university in 1956, according to the Crimson White.

The building was named after Bibb Graves, a two-term Democratic Alabama governor and Ku Klux Klan officer.

Lucy, now 92, attended her first day of classes 66 years ago on Feb. 3, 1956. She completed a total of three days of classes until riots erupted on campus. She was suspended by the school, who feared for her safety.

No other black student would attend the college again until 1963 when Vivian Malone and James Hood enrolled and segregationist governor George Wallace tried to block their entrance.

The name change was prompted by the university’s Building Names Working Group, which was formed in June 2020 to review the names of buildings and structures around the UA campus. The group is responsible for the name change of several buildings and is eyeing more, the Crimson White reported. A petition was launched in 2020 to change the name.

Historic marker stands outside Bibb Graves Hall at the University Of Alabama.
Autherine Lucy Foster was the first black person to enroll at the University of Alabama.
Getty Images / Raymond Boyd

Trustee Emeritus Judge John England, Jr., chair of the organization, pitched the idea for the name change to the board of trustees. England said during the riots against Lucy’s enrollment, she hid out inside Graves Hall, which he called “the site of one of the University of Alabama’s darkest moments,” according to the Crimson White.

Lucy re-enrolled at UA 1991 and received her Master’s Degree. A campus clocktower is currently named in her honor, as is a scholarship annually awarded to a black undergraduate student, the paper said.

The university decided to keep Gov. Graves’ name on the building for his progressive policies regarding African Americans and his later denouncement of the Klan. Graves served as the governor of Alabama from 1929-1931, and then again from 1935-1939.

“On the one hand, Governor Graves is regarded by historians as one of, if not the most, progressive and effective governors in the history of the state of Alabama,” England said, the Crimson White reported. “Some say he did more to directly benefit African American Alabamians than any other governor through his many reforms.”

Historic marker stands outside Bibb Graves Hall at the University Of Alabama.
Lucy attended classes for three days until riots broke out and the university suspended her for fear of her safety.
Getty Images / Raymond Boyd

“Unfortunately, that same Governor Graves was associated with the Ku Klux Klan,” England said. “Not just associated with the Ku Klux Klan, but a Grand Cyclops. It’s hard for me to even say those words.” 

The Grand Cyclops was responsible for appointing Klan members to various roles among other leadership responsibilities.

The board decided to look beyond Graves’ connection to the group, citing many historians’ conclusions that his association with the Klan was nothing more than a political maneuver that allowed him to build a progressive coalition “which included labor unions, prohibitionists, and women’s suffrage advocates – that ultimately helped him secure the 1926 gubernatorial election against the “Big Mules” who dominated state politics in that era,” according to the board resolution. 

“We also considered the contributions made and we decided, after much wrestling with it, should this man’s initial and temporary political association with such an organization outweigh the tremendous progress and positive impact achieved? We’re talking about during a time when Alabama was rigidly segregated,” England said. 

Graves renounced his KKK membership in 1928, newspaper headlines from the time show.

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